For Immediate Release: Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Contact: Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028; Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
Prosecution Unlikely Amid Sharp Decline in Interior Criminal Enforcement
Washington, DC — For the past six weeks, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been sitting on a complaint that the notorious Bundy clan has illegally built irrigation trenches and laid pipes to carry spring water off of a federal national monument in Southern Nevada. The issue will test BLM’s current leader, William Pendley, a self-described “Sagebrush Rebel” who has editorialized in support of long-time illegal grazing by Bundy cattle on federal land, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In mid-April, hikers came across extensive irrigation work, heavy equipment, and piping in the Gold Butte National Monument, a 300,000-acre unit managed by BLM where rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons have been grazing their cattle illegally for the past 20 years. The hikers filed a complaint and photos with the local office of BLM, which says the matter is still under review.
Prior to being brought in to run the BLM, Pendley spent 30 years as the head of the ultra-conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation suing BLM in support of the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement embodied by Bundy. But Pendley now says that “whatever I’ve said and done in the past is irrelevant” and that his new client is the federal government.
“Tearing up federal land is a serious offense,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that damage to federal land in excess of $1,000 is punishable by up to ten years in prison. “If Mr. Pendley is now truly representing the American taxpayer, it is high time to start showing it.”
PEER is concerned that Pendley will block enforcement action against this latest encroachment because he condemned efforts by BLM law enforcement in 2014 to seize Bundy’s cattle which had been illegally grazing without a required permit as an “overreaction.”
Nor has Pendley shown any inclination to curb widespread illegal grazing on BLM rangelands. Allowing the Bundy family to siphon scarce spring waters on public lands to their ranch will enable continued and expanded grazing trespass for the foreseeable future.
Significantly, since the Trump inauguration, criminal enforcement by Interior agencies has nosedived. Criminal referrals to the Justice Department for prosecution have dropped by one-third, to the lowest level in more than 30 years. With fewer criminal referrals, prosecutions and convictions have fallen by similar percentages to levels not seen in decades. At the same time, there has been a significant decline in the number of BLM law enforcement special agents and rangers.
“Crimes on federal lands have not declined but enforcement against those crimes certainly has,” added Ruch, whose organization is also suing the Interior Department charging that Pendley’s tenure at BLM is illegal and should be extinguished. “Standing by while the Bundy clan rips up a national monument and seizes its springs without any sanction will only encourage more theft of public resources.”
Pendley’s current appointment at BLM ends on June 5 but is expected to again be extended.